Selling the invisible- a field guide to modern marketing by Harry Beckwith

I had once come across a silly-sounding fact which stated that a woman had purchased an invisible painting for a good $10K. I had wondered how someone can do that. To me it sounded completely unimaginable. When I got this book, I had similar thoughts running my mind. How can one sell something that is invisible. 



Author : Harry Beckwith
Originally Published : 1997
Publication : Grand Central Publishing
Pages :250
Genre(s) :-
Non-Fiction, Business, Marketing

Coming from Harry Beckwith who advises businesses and speaks at B-Schools (22 of his high profile clients feature in Fortune 200 list), I was sure he wouldn’t write something not worth its value. And the book didn’t disappoint me.

Beckwith sets out by clarifying your doubt, he’s talking about selling services, which one cannot see. How could someone sell that which cannot be seen, he asks the reader and then goes on to answer the question. For starters, he shows you how even the seemingly giant companies like Nike (that does not manufacture but only designs and sells shoes) is in fact a services company. America is a service economy with a product marketing model in place and it has worked wonders. It’s a revelation when you read that today’s product economy is actually a fine service based one.

One after the other, Beckwith’s gems of advice start resonating with you and force you to have a relook at the way you do business.

Take for example when he says, let your clients set your standards. Now that would startle you. It has always been your competitors, your ego and the industry that has set standards for you so far. But ultimately it’s all about the customers.

Beckwith warns you to remember the Butterfly effect where one tiny flutter in one part of the world has a drastic impact on the other. He gives you the now famous example of how an enthusiastic salesman took some efforts to please a waiting customer and ended up selling more than what he had come to buy. If you cannot write a reasonably good ad easily, your product/ service is flawed, says Beckwith.

The importance of surveying and research

Nothing works better than a good market research and survey. People won’t tell if you or your product/ service is doing good or bad. You need to do just one things – ASK. But beware of written surveys, for if your words can’t be interpreted accurately by the reader, the survey won’t yield correct results. Oral surveys may be best (at least at the time of writing this book), because you can always clarify; but never ask what they don’t like about your company or your product.

Beckwith doesn’t stop at advising how to market, he also gives you ideas worth pondering in a new business. So when you decide it’s time to grow, don’t just think of your business, think about your skills.

Understand the person, not just the client. People have their own personal needs and reasons why they want those needs met. Try understanding that. Though it may sound impossible, it’s very easy in today’s age. The one piece of advice which I would swear by and which is relevant today more than anytime earlier is that one should go where none are going.

Tackling the planning fallacies

Yes, planning is what most managers love to do. But it won’t let you know what lies ahead, says Beckwith. So plan for several possible futures ahead. Other fallacies like you can know what you want, strategy is king, there will be a perfect time (there never was and will be in business), smartness helps or that focus groups work, have to get a thorough relook. Experience, perfection confidence, fate also fall flat in his book.

Another crucial factor in successful sales is to position and focus accurately. Mere speaking ( a lot) never works because then no one listens.

At times, Beckwith is brutally bland when he says one should rather monogram the service rather than doing it for the company which speaks volumes for the way companies spend time money and effort in creating brand design rather than focusing on its quality and recall value. Building your brand doesn’t take millions, it just takes imagination.

Key takeaways

  1. The book draws heavily from Beckwith’s experience. Laid out as simple brief anecdotes and small pieces, it makes for some interesting read with a lesson thrown in at the end that summarizes everything
  2. Product market is essentially a service market with design and customer delight at the core of all products
  3. Focus on service quality rather than too much brouhaha about advertising
  4. Speak about the customer to him , not about you
  5. Know what he wants and help him find exactly that

Why I recommend this book

Firstly because it’s a tongue-in-cheek advice about the many ways marketers make mistakes. Second for its profound advice like an old grandpa would give his young and roaring kids.

Read this book to shed the myths that marketing is difficult and not everyone’s cup of tea.

Keep this book, gift it, read it again and again, give to your staff and discuss it, share your experiences and learn from it.

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